Monday, June 23, 2008

Budo scholar, Maja Sori Doval (interview!)

Maya in the center with Norma Foster on her right and Jennifer Hardwick on her left, at the Vancouver Karate Cup 2006.

Iaido demonstration in Japan.

Iaido tournament in Japan.

As we progress through life, things often split up into what we "love" do and what we "end up" doing. And so, in yet another of the Shiramizu Internship Blog Interviews (perhaps we should call these SIBI's from now on.....), we get a chance to talk to someone whose studies have taken her to see various facets of the budo world she loves here in Japan, turning those studies into something she will do for a career.

Let's get chatting.....

L: Why don't you start by telling us who you are and where you're from?
M: My name is Maja Sori Doval and I'm from Germany.

L: And how old were you when you started karate?
M: I was 13 when I started.

L: I heard you were in Okinawa on your first trip to Japan. Tell us a little about your experience there.
M: I went to Okinawa as an exchange student in 2003. There was no Wado karate in Okinawa so I joined the Ryukyu University karate club and started practicing Goju-ryu at a local dojo.

The dojo practice was very different from the training on mainland Japan. Practices mainly consisted of kata bunkai, self defense and body conditioning. And the kumite was full contact with body protectors and different from the competition rules. Stupid like I was, I volunteered to take part and got 3 low kicks to my leg. I went to the doctor the next day and when he looked at me leg, he smiled and asked, "Karate?".

L: Was one of your Okinawan instructors Tsuguo Sakumoto Sensei of Okinawa Ryueiryu Karate (7x WUKO Kata World Champion!)?
M: My teacher was Tetsuhiro Hokama Sensei of Okinawa Goju-ryu Karate Kenshikai, but I have had the privalege of training under Sakumoto Sensei.

L: What is he like?
M: When I first met him, I found him very open minded and willing to teach anyone who wanted to learn. I was also impressed with his teaching methods. As a former physical education teacher, he knows how to explain techniques in a very logical and easy to understand way.

While living in Okinawa, I was doubtful of my karate and had little confidence in my kata. Sakumoto Sensei made me perform a kata and basically said, "Your kata looks fine but you don't believe in it." When he said this, I felt very strange because it seemed like he was looking into my soul.

L: That's really deep (ed- no pun intended)...... Well, this past March you graduated from the Interational Budo University in Chiba, Japan with a Master's Degree in Budo, is that right? How did you hear about the university and how did you apply?
M: While I was in Germany I applied for a scholarship from the Japanese Ministry of Education. I was accepted and given a recommendation to the university of my choosing. Normally students have to take an entrance exam, but because of the recommendation, I only had to write a short essay, in Japanese, on Budo.

L: The nickname for the university is Budai right? What's that short for?
M: Budai is short for Kokusai Budo Daigaku, which means International Budo University.

L: What were your first two years at Budai like?
M: The first year I had to take a lot of classes like Japanese martial arts history, teaching methodology, research guidance classes and the like. All of the classes were theoretical so I took some practical classes from the undergraduate program. In the second year, I focussed on my thesis.

L: And what did you mainly study?
M: I studied the history and theory of Judo, Kendo, and Karate.

L: So what was your thesis focussed on then?
M: My thesis was on the transformation of Okinawa Karate to modern Karate-Do in mainland Japan from 1920 to 1945. (ed- On the right is a copy of Maja's thesis she gave Arakawa Sensei)

L: Considering you've spent so much time studying Budo, do you have any thoughts on it you'd like to share?
M: I think to make progess it is very important to have an open mind and to always want to learn new things. For example, experiencing different styles of karate will help you to understand your own style better. In my experience, practicing different martial arts helped my karate improve as well.

My Iaidio Sensei once said, "Budo wa keiko", which means Budo is practice. All the philosophy of Budo doesn't matter if you don't continue to practice it.

L: That's definitely a good point. I remember you telling me that there once was a Budo conference at the university a year or so ago with many scholars attending, but no one could agree on what Budo is. Can you shed a bit more light on this?
M: That was the annual meeting of the Nihon Budo Gakkai (Japanese Budo Research Society). I got the impression that even in Japan the scientific research into Budo is still in the beginning stages.

L: How about the training when you were at Budai? Where did you practice?
M: For the first 6 months I trained with the university club, but I wasn't satisfied with training only competition karate 6 times a week. I wanted to practice my basics and kata as well, so I joined a Wadokai dojo about a 40 minute train ride away. I also started training other martial arts as well.

L: Such as?
M: I started Iaido (now a nidan) and Judo (shodan) at the Budo University. I joined the Iaido Circle, went to the Judo classes held by the Physical Education Department, and joined the university Judo club. I also took a few Aikido and Shorinji Kempo classes. I'm very grateful to have had the privalege to practice with many excellent instructors.

L: Speaking of Iaido, Richard Sensei once mentioned that the simple, direct movements and extreme emphasis on form improved his Wado. Do you have any similar experience with other martial arts improving your karate?
M: Iaido practice has also helped improve my Karate kata. For example, I discovered that the way you use your body in the basic Iaido movement (Nukitsuke - the drawing of the sword) is very similar to the movement of the Shuto uke.

Aikido's helped me understand the concept of tai sabaki (movement of the body to avoid an incoming attack) and improved my kansetsu waza (joint locks).

I've also found connections between Judo and Wadoryu. In some of the Judo kata there are techniques similar to Wado idori and tanto dori, because both are based on Jujitsu. Judo has also made my joints more flexible and has been a great way to condition my body, too.

Lastly, doing all three has helped me get a better feeling for my maai (distancing).

L: And having tried so many things, I'm sure you must have at least one interesting story.....
M: Well, imagine a place where everyone has a black belt and at least 6 years of competition experience under that belt. Then imagine showing up with a white belt and all the people giving you a "What the hell is SHE doing here?" expression.......... yeah, that's how I started Judo in Japan.

L: Oddly enough, I get that look a lot......... anyways, having been in Japan and now done the budo program, do you have any advice for people looking to study in a program similar to yours? Would you recommend it?
M: The program I was in was a 2 year Master's program. The working conditions and the academic guidance were excellent, but it was also very hard work. But I can certainly recommend the program to people who are fluent in Japanese, including a high level of writing proficiency.

L: What about Japan itself? You've been here for a while now........ any thoughts?
M: Even though I've lived here for 4 years now, there's still aspects of Japanese culture I don't understand very well. It's like I learn something new or change my understanding of Japan everyday.

L: Yeah, that's something I've noticed as well. So what about now? You're in Waseda University now, is that right? That's a very prestigious university (one of the top 5 in Japan)...... what are you studying there?
M: I'm doing my PhD in Sport Science.

L: And when you've gotten that PhD you will......?
M: Well, I want to teach at a university. I'm also thinking about a future in teaching karate.

L: Speaking of that, what are your views on the world of karate then?
M: Karate has turned into a sport which has it's good side, but I'm afraid that the essence of the different styles will disappear.

L: That is a big concern isn't it? How about Wado in Japan then?
M: Even though the technical standard is very high and there are many good instructors, competition karate is still the mainstream. It's disappointing, but there are many schools now that don't teach Wado-specific techniques like tanto dori and idori.

L: Which ties back to that same issue........... but about that, how has your competition experience in Japan been?
M: Well, I didn't compete much in Germany but around 2 years ago I started competing regularly in Japan, usually once a month. It was very hard in the beginning because the rules are slightly different from the international rules and I had to get used to that. Body contact is much harder in Japan and the fighting style itself in kumite is different. Despite that, it's been a lot of fun and I've had a great experience.

L: That's great to hear! Any advice for foreigners who want to train martial arts in Japan?
M: Try to learn some basic Japanese language and culture...... it'll make everything easier.

L: Very sound advice. Anything else you want to throw out there?
M: Thanks so much to everyone who's helped me! I really appreciate it!

Needless to say, we're very appreciative that Maja's taking time from her busy schedule to share her experiences in many different aspects of the Budo world. We wish Maja all the best in her studies and we can't wait to see what's in store for her next!


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